House Calls For Elderly Could Relieve Squeezed 'Sandwich Generation'

Partner content from Kaiser Health News

Stethoscope and Model House on Gradated Background with Selective Focus.

Medicare could make it easier for doctors to see some people in their homes. iStockphoto.com hide caption

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Older folks with lots of chronic illnesses aren’t the only ones who could benefit from a Medicare experiment funded through the new health law that will send doctors and nurse practitioners to visit them in their homes.

Family members and others who care for the elderly could profit as well, spared some of trips with seniors to medical appointments, and the worry about falls and other mishaps.

A doctor described it to Joanne Schwartzberg, director of aging and community health for the American Medical Association, this way: "Not a day goes by without a daughter running into the office and saying, 'Mom’s stuck in the car.'"

The three-year demonstration project, called Independence at Home, will test the home visit concept on 10,000 of the sickest Medicare beneficiaries, starting in January 2012 or sooner. Teams of doctors and nurse practitioners will visit patients in their homes, monitoring and coordinating their care. The medical groups share in any savings.

Successful house call programs in several cities have demonstrated that they can keep seniors healthier and save on health care costs by avoiding hospitalizations and emergency department visits.

Nearly a third of households in the U.S. reported that at least one family member served as an unpaid caregiver in the past year, according to 2009 survey by the National Alliance for Caregiving in collaboration with AARP.

About two-thirds of caregivers are women who’ve been providing care for about 4 1/2 years on average, the survey found.

Coordination of care is the key, not only for patients but for the caregivers. “It’s a lot more comforting from family members’ perspective to know that there’s someone there watching the changes,” says Stephen Rosenthal, president of the Care Management Company at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, NY. “They worry anyway, but knowing that there’s a person watching helps.”

And having a medical professional keeping tabs on Dad at home may have the added bonus of reducing how much time caregivers have to spend away from their jobs. When the NAC survey came out in December, researchers found that caregivers were taking more time off: two-thirds said they had to miss work in order to provide care for someone.

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